From a young age, schoolchildren participate in emergency drills in case of a natural disaster. Depending on the weather and safety conditions, students may practice earthquake, hurricane, tornado, fire, and/or lockdown drills. While these may have been nothing more than a once-a-year interruption to the average student’s school day, these drills speak volumes about the importance of having a crisis plan ready, especially when disaster strikes.

Consider today’s unpredictable business landscape. Crises such as a cyberattack or a global pandemic can strike without warning, leaving organizations scrambling to respond and mitigate the damage. Without a crisis communication in place, companies stand to lose much more than just financial resources. 

Read on to learn why your business should have a crisis communication plan, its effect on business continuity, and how to craft an effective one.

Crises in a digitally connected world

We all live in the digital age, a fast-paced and interconnected world where information travels rapidly. At the click of a button, we can call and video chat with relatives or colleagues halfway across the world. We can also turn on the TV for breaking news updates of the current election cycle or browse social media for highlight reels of yesterday’s sports match.

Although technological advancements have made life more convenient, they still cannot predict the future with 100% accuracy. This is why organizations tend to land in hot water, as they sometimes find themselves unequipped to deal with challenges that disrupt operations and tarnish reputations. These crises can arise from natural disasters, product recalls, financial scandals, or even social media controversies.

The importance of crisis communication

Once businesses spot a crisis looming on the horizon, it may already be too late to combat it. Therefore, organizations must use crisis communication to craft a plan that can help manage and respond to the situation.

Crisis communication is not just about reacting to a crisis; it involves anticipating potential problems, developing communication strategies with stakeholders, and protecting the company’s reputation.

It’s never fun to be the bearer of bad news, but businesses must be transparent in their communication efforts. They need to provide concise information about the crisis, its causes, and the steps being taken to address it. This builds trust and credibility with stakeholders, who are more likely to support the organization if they perceive it as being open and accountable.

Frustrated woman at work
Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

The anatomy of a robust crisis communication plan

Before we delve into the steps required for developing a crisis communication plan, let’s explore its key elements. Your organization should include the following: 

  • Designated crisis management team: This team is responsible for making critical decisions and coordinating communication efforts. All members should be well trained and equipped to handle the complexities of a crisis.
  • Clear chain of command and designated spokespeople: Having a clearly defined hierarchy and designated individuals who can effectively collaborate with internal and external stakeholders is a must. These spokespeople should be excellent communicators who can convey sensitive information accurately.
  • Updated contact list of key stakeholders: This includes employees, customers, suppliers, and media contacts. Having an up-to-date contact list allows communication to run promptly and smoothly, so that important messages reach the right people at the right time. 
  • Pre-approved templates for crisis communication messages: These templates help to save time and maintain brand consistency in a crisis. The goal is to address the crisis, convey empathy, and provide necessary information to stakeholders.
  • Comprehensive media monitoring and response strategy: A crisis communication plan should effectively manage public perception so that only accurate information is shared. There should be a strategy for monitoring media coverage, addressing misinformation, and responding promptly to media inquiries.

How to develop a crisis communication plan

There are five key steps to creating a communication plan:

  1. Identify potential crises. Flag and assess any potential crises that could impact the organization. Conduct an analysis of internal and external factors that may pose a risk, such as technology issues or an economic recession.
  2. Assess risks and vulnerabilities. Once potential crises are identified, assess all risks and vulnerabilities associated with each scenario. The purpose is to prioritize response efforts and allocate resources effectively.
  3. Establish clear objectives. Create a defined strategy to guide communication efforts during a crisis.  Ensure that it’s consistent with the organization’s messaging and does not contradict its values in any way.
  4. Create a communication flowchart. This chart should outline roles, responsibilities, and lines of communication within the crisis management team. Everybody should know who they can turn to if an issue arises.
  5. Conduct regular crisis preparedness drills and training. Test out your plan by incorporating regular drills and training sessions. If a crisis ever arises, all employees should be prepared to respond swiftly and effectively. 

How crisis communication affects business continuity

When a crisis occurs, there is no time to lose as your business must take action immediately. It is not enough to simply react to the situation; you must proactively address the crisis head on and keep your external partners and community members informed every step of the way. 

For instance, your organization must provide updates that are transparent, accurate, and timely. During a crisis, your customers, suppliers, and stakeholders have a right to know what’s going on so that they can support the recovery effort. If you keep them in the dark, their confusion and anxieties can further exacerbate an already stressful situation. To avoid this, you can prepare and share press releases and social media updates, or even reach out to those people directly. This will certainly help minimize disruptions to the supply chain and ensure the continuity of your business partnerships. 

Additionally, your business has to respond promptly to stakeholder concerns. If they are confused about your action plan or hesitate when seeing significant changes to your policies and procedures, set up a meeting to discuss the issue. Remember to show empathy by actively listening to their thought processes and asking for feedback. This builds trust and makes stakeholders feel that their voices are being heard. They will have a positive image of your organization and be less likely to spread misinformation. 

Lastly, your company should engage with the community to show your commitment to corporate social responsibility. Because clients tend to remain long-term customers of businesses whose values they agree with, you cannot forget about these people during a crisis. Provide them with detailed information about the situation and ways to contact you, along with social media shoutouts shedding light on how they are making a positive impact. If you do so, you can strengthen your company’s reputation and build goodwill. This can have long-term benefits, not only in terms of business continuity but for brand loyalty and customer trust.

Hands in the middle in a team huddle
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

How great leadership boosts crisis communication 

While communicating with your external partners and community scores you bonus points, you need to speak with your staff as well. 

Picture yourself navigating a crisis as a captain steering their crew and ship through stormy weather. You may succeed in avoiding collisions with other ships or the debris aimlessly floating in the water. However, if you cannot prevent infighting between your crew members or if you do not command their respect, your efforts to steer the ship will ultimately go to waste. 

Likewise, in times of crisis, effective leadership is crucial if you want to guide your organization back to shore. During a crisis, leaders are faced with numerous challenges that require them to step up and take charge. Leaders are navigating through a lot of uncertainty, and they must make tough choices and provide guidance to their teams. If you communicate well, you can instill confidence in your team and come out of this situation even stronger. 

First of all, leaders must build and maintain trust. During crises, people tend to be in a panic and spread information that is not true. Leaders need to step up and cement their credibility by sharing accurate information with all staff and stakeholders. They can address any concerns openly and quash any rumors that could escalate the situation. If they made any errors previously when speaking with employees, now would be a good time to admit the mistake. Just think, would you rather listen to somebody who apologizes for mistakes or lies and pretends they know it all?

Second, leaders have to be empathetic and understanding. Again, the staff and stakeholders are going to be on edge having found themselves in a situation that is largely out of their control. Leaders can try to keep tension at bay by providing reassurance and support through frequent meetings and open-door policies. Ultimately, the goal is to foster a sense of unity and solidarity during a difficult period. 

Lastly, leaders need to make tough decisions that prioritize the wellbeing of their employees and stakeholders. They may need to implement safety protocols, adjust business operations, or reallocate resources. Because these decisions will need to be made quickly to mitigate the crisis, leaders can gather everybody around and communicate the decisions and the logic behind them as clearly as possible. If you don’t offer an explanation as to why these measures are suddenly being put in place, it will be hard to gain anyone’s cooperation. 

Evaluating and updating your crisis communication plan

From time to time, it is necessary to evaluate and update your crisis communication plan for the next unforeseen event. When doing so, be sure to follow these steps:

  1. Assess the effectiveness of the existing plan by reviewing how it performed in the past. Gather employee feedback and also consider conducting simulated crisis scenarios.
  2. Identify any changes in your company’s structure, operations, or external environment that may require updates to the plan.
  3. Hold meetings and/or discussions with key stakeholders to get their perspectives and increase the chances of buy-in.
  4. Revise the plan based on the feedback and lessons learned from previous crises.
  5. Communicate the updated plan to all relevant stakeholders and provide training on its implementation.

Use Wrike to navigate a crisis with confidence

Navigating a crisis calls for more than just a plan; it requires a robust, well-structured communication strategy. With Wrike, you can manage your crisis communication plans efficiently, so that all your critical information is organized, easily accessible, and ready for distribution when needed. 

Begin by creating dedicated folders for different crises, each containing specific communication plans, contacts, and necessary resources.

In addition to crisis management, Wrike offers a wide range of features designed to assist in various aspects of your business operations. Whether it’s prebuilt templates, automated workflows, or project dashboards that you need, Wrike has got you covered.

If you want to make sure that your business is equipped with the tools necessary to respond to a crisis, you’ve come to the right place. Start your free trial of Wrike today.

Note: This article was created with the assistance of an AI engine. It has been reviewed and revised by our team of experts to ensure accuracy and quality.